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Monday, August 24, 2009

Aftermath of our epic day

After our epic adventure high on the Colorado Trail, I collapsed into a semi-comatose state at our default campsite. I say 'default' because the only reason why we camped there was that I couldn't move another inch. I ate and drank and ate and drank... you get the idea. I'd accumulated a tremendous caloric and fluid deficit.

My husband kept mumbling things about "at least you didn't get hurt...". He'd spent the day worried and out running the trails trying to find me. I wish I hadn't worried him so much.

I woke up the next morning feeling about halfway recovered but still excited to explore. We decided to do a pack (my husband, me, and the two dogs) excursion. I rode my mountain bike up the West fork of Pole Creek toward Stony Pass.

The creek has gouged a precipitous canyon through the valley. Although the waters trickled softly on that August day, they must roil and stampede in early summer to create such a groove in the rocky earth.I rode slowly, nursing tired legs from my previous day's adventure, and two bald eagles soared over my head and then along the creek's canyon that the trail paralleled. Their long and elegant wings reached far to each side while their white heads and tails glowed compared to their black bodies. Watching them, however briefly, was magical.As I climbed, the trail repeatedly disappeared into a labyrinth of elk and cattle trails but the prominent creek kept me on track. I came upon three locals resting under a tree, one of whom carried a gun in a holster. My past traumatic experience with a gun and dog led me to grab K's hind end, almost violently, to clip on her leash. I surprised K with my emphatic tackle, and she turned and grabbed my hand in her mouth! Not hard - no broken skin or even any injury - but it's the first time since puppyhood that she's touched her teeth to anyone's skin. The trio of locals turned out to be gentle and friendly cowboys who'd awakened at 4AM to watch the local elk herd, 350-strong, before the elk bedded down for their day-long nap in a dense forest of spruce and firs.

At the creek's highest point, we reached the new Colorado Trail, the same one that I'd traveled the day before, a couple of miles east of Stony Pass. The view awed me, again, although the skies threatened gloomy rain for the first time in days.We looked back down the drainage that we'd just climbed. Even if I get lost every single day in the mountains, I'll still love being high in the thin air and gazing at views like this one.The alpine landscape looked completely novel to me despite having seen it the day before. I think that I had tunnel vision by this point in my epic ride. With fresh eyes, I noticed the gigantic scree slopes created by rocks tumbling down from Canby Mountain. Creeks joined the tumble, and created wildflower wonderlands at their moist bases.One riotous patch contained reds, pinks, purples, blues, and yellows, all within a few yards.Elephantella flowers (Pedicularis groenlandica) proudly reached their trunks toward the sky. I adore the unique shape of these blossoms.Rosy Paintbrushes accentuated the pink in the Elephant flowers.I almost overlooked the Queen's Crown (Sedum rhodanthum) within the riot. They're closely related to Yellow Stonecrop, a flower that I've seen everywhere from the montane to the alpine regions of our mountains.
And, ubiquitous round patches of yellow star-like flowers littered this area. They'd lined every trail I'd traveled so far on our vacation. I think that these one's were Fremont's Senecio (Senecio fremontii) - the species that dominated all of the moist rocky areas I'd traversed.After a relaxing and relatively easy outing, we drove toward Silverton to stock up on supplies and take hot showers. As we drove, I contemplated the previous day's misadventure. I thought about the things that I'd done right and wrong, trying to figure out whether I could've avoided the drama. I came up with a mental list.

Things I did right:
1) I was physically fit. Riding a bike that distance and over those mountains was within my capabilities.
2) I was acclimated to high altitude. Because I live at 8200', exercising at high altitude (12-13,000') all day didn't bother me.
3) I had a detailed topo map and had read 2 guide books about the route. The only problem was that I'd read about the wrong route.
4) I had a Spot Messenger with me so if the situation had become dire, I could've hit the 911 button - which would have sent a 911 message and my GPS coordinates via satellite to the authorities. All of Spot's other functions were useless because my husband didn't have cell phone reception.
5) I had warm cloths in my backpack for an emergency.

Things I did wrong:
1) I didn't bring enough water or water purification tablets. As the Watcher suggested, always carrying a purification tablet in my backpack is hardly going to break my back.
2) I didn't have up-to-date information about the Colorado Trail. I actually checked the publication date on my Colorado Trail Guidebook (2002) and on my National Geographic Topo Map (updated in 2004) - neither seemed too ancient to me. Today, I learned by talking with the managing director of the Colorado Trail Foundation that the trail is constantly being rerouted and improved. I should've checked their website before setting out. By the way, I thought that it was a very nice gesture for this gentleman to contact me after reading my blog account.
3) I didn't have a decent GPS unit.
4) My husband wasn't looking at the same map as I was. When doing point-to-point rides where we need to meet a specific location, we should each have a copy of the same map.

Ways that I was lucky:
1) The weather was good. A lightning storm on that ridge would have been terrifying and perhaps deadly.
2) Very nice people helped me once I arrived at Stony Pass.

All in all, I learned some important lessons without getting hurt. And, I traveled through truly amazing terrain that I'll never forget. Not a bad day, I'd say.


  1. Kia ora KB,
    What an adventure! I think the best part of all is you got up the next day on got back on the proverbial horse and got back out there.
    That was my thought yesterday when reading your tale was a few water purification tablets would have at least solved your thirst problem. Thirst is a horribly uncomfortable feeling and can lead to some bad decision making.
    Your honest and thourough anaylsis was very refreshing and will hold you in good stead. Kia kaha - Remain strong.

  2. Your list of learnings at the end of your post are powerful. Mother nature is very unforgiving, but is also a great life teacher.

    Too many people just blame others (e.g., they should have marked the trail better), rather than analyze their own actions as you did. A mantra I was taught years ago - "I am 100% responsible for how I choose to respond to all situations and all people. Everyone else is 0% responsible. No excuses. No whining. No blaming." Just wish I always followed the mantra.

  3. Hi KB

    You are lucky to be able to look back on your day and consider how you would do it differently next time...

    that elephantella is the most intriguing little flower like Ganesha...the elephant god...

    Happy days

  4. A wonderful end to your epic ride! I, too, love the high peaks and thin air - however, being alone and lost would be scary. Storms are terrifying - we encountered one on our hike last Tues. and had to consider our options there above tree-line. Luckily, it mostly passed to the side of us. Every day now, storms are forecast for the mountains, so I am very aware of the need to start early and try to get back by mid-day. Thank Goodness all ended well for you!

  5. KB ! You are one courageous lady!
    You scared me and I wasn't even there! :)


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